In Part 2 of her series on growing your own herbs, Brisbane-based horticultural and sustainability expert Claire Bickle shows you what to do with a herb harvest glut and outlines how you'll save money by growing your own.

What to do with your herb harvest glut?

So you’ve decided to become more self-sufficient and grow your own herbs.  But what happens when you have a harvest glut to deal with? Here are some tips on how to go about harvesting and what you can do to preserve the excess.

Harvesting

As a general rule of thumb, one third is the general rule when it comes to harvesting. This will ensure that your herb of choice will have enough foliage to regrow and produce more harvestable material.

It is obviously important before madly harvesting that you wait until your herbs have established and that there is enough mature growth to allow for harvesting and regrowth to occur.

Drying your herbs

There are a number of drying methods:

  • Hanging bunches of your chosen herbs up in a dry and shaded or sunny location is one method. Make sure the herbs are free from any excess moisture or dew. Doing this will prevent mould from growing.
  • Using drying frames. This is where you place your herbs between two screened wooden frames and place in the sun. The wire or screen is there to prevent your herbs from blowing away when drying.
  • Using an oven. For a faster drying method using an oven is a possibility. Place your herbs on a baking tray and set the oven on a moderate heat. Time in the oven will vary depending on the herb type and the percentage of moisture content.

Once dried, you can store your dried herbs as is or grind them up into a powder with a mortar and pestle.

Either way your dried herbs will need to be placed in an airtight jar or container and keep in a dark location to preserve flavour and colour.

Freezing your herbs

Simply paint leaves/foliage with olive oil and store them flat in a resealable freezer bag and freeze. Another option is to chop up the herbs and place in an ice cube tray and cover with water or olive oil, and then freeze.

When it comes to using your frozen harvest, just pop out your ice cube of preserved herbs and pop straight into the meal you are cooking.

If frozen in ice cube trays, herbs and edible flowers such as borage, calendula, basil, chives, dianthus, violas, rose petals, lavender, marigolds and other edible flowers can make a beautiful edition to any fruit punch or glass of mineral water.

Vinegars and oils

Preserving your herbs in oil is easily done. Place whole pieces of herbs or chopped herbs into clean glass jars or bottles and then fill with vinegar or oil. This method cuts down on discoloration and quite often seals in flavour better than other methods.

Herbs need to be completely dry before being preserved in oil and vinegar, otherwise you run the risk of bacterial contamination. The herbs you wish to preserve in vinegar will be competing with its strong flavour, so aim to use a mild vinegar and a seal bottle or jar with a cork top.

Herbs preserved in oil need to be kept in a dark location to stop the oil from becoming rancid.

Make pesto and chilli jam

Herbs such as basil can easily be made into pesto which can be stored in the freezer for use at a later date. Chillies are also another abundant producer and though it is easy to be dry and preserve them in vinegar and oil they can also be made into sauces, jams and pastes.

How growing herbs lets you live for less

1. Less money. I would estimate that growing a range of herbs can reduce your grocery bill on average by anywhere from $300 to $500 a year depending on your herb usage. The initial costs of setting up an edible garden or range of containers is very quickly recouped. Then the savings start to add up and add up quickly, especially when you look at the cost of buying fresh certified organic herbs.

2. Less waste. Plus your wastage is reduced to virtually zero. No more packaging and no more wilted expensive herbs sitting in the fridge heading for the bin and eventually landfill.

3. Lower carbon footprint. Less ‘food miles’ (e.g. road transport) to get to your dinner table compared to supermarket herbs, thus reducing your carbon footprint.

Other articles in this series…

How to herb it up at home Part 1 – Claire’s advice on how to choose and grow the right herbs for a Brisbane garden.